BWW Reviews: SINGIN' IN THE RAIN 60 Years Later - The Best Movie Musical of All Time
Early on in Singin' in the Rain, the young ingénue Kathy Selden says to dashing movie star Don Lockwood, “I don’t go to the movies much. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.”
If you only saw one movie in your lifetime, you could not do much better than Singin' in the Rain.
I had the pleasure of attending a special one night only screening of Singin' in the Rain on Thursday, July 12th, presented by Fathom Events, Turner Classic Movies, and Warner Brothers. The film, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year and receives its first ever Blu-Ray release on Tuesday, July 17th, attracted a full house at the Regal Arbor 8 movie theater in Austin, TX. I have never seen such an eclectic crowd at a movie theater before. Some were young and possibly had never seen the film before. Others looked as if they could have seen the film when it was released 60 years ago. And then there was me, a 28 year old film and theater enthusiast who still dances on lamp posts when it’s raining and has fond childhood memories of trying to imitate Donald O’Connor’s ability to back flip off of walls.
As I sat there before the film began, I thought of how remarkable it is that this film has attracted so much attention and continues to inspire 60 years later. The film is no doubt a staple of American film history and pop culture. Singin' in the Rain ranks #1 on the American Film Institute’s list of the Best Movie Musicals of All Time and ranks at #5 on their list of the Best Films of All Time. The title song comes in at #3 on AFI’s list of the Best Film Songs of All Time, behind only “As Time Goes By” from Casablanca and “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz.
However, no one involved in the film expected the film to be such a hit. The film made $3 million in its initial release, respectable back in 1952, but by no means the biggest film of the year. It was nominated for two Academy Awards but did not win either. And on top of that, it was a musical that featured very little original music. The film featured two new songs, “Moses Supposes” and “Make ‘Em Laugh,” but all of the other songs written by composer Nacio Herb Brown and lyricist Arthur Freed had been featured in other films dating all the way back to 1929. Even the title song had been featured in five other films. It’s quite remarkable that one of the first jukebox musicals is now an iconic piece of American cinema. Ask yourself if we’ll be talking about the film versions of Mamma Mia!, Rock of Ages, or even the upcoming film version of Jersey Boys 60 years from now.
So why is it that the movie became such a hit and is considered to be the best movie musical of all time?
The answer is simple. It’s a crowd-pleaser.
Singin' in the Rain is one of those movies where every element and every member of the cast and crew came together to create something truly breathtaking and exceptional. The script by Betty Comden and Adolph Green zings along at a brisk, Aaron Sorkin-esque pace and provides laughs in every scene. It also manages to work in the recycled songbook oF Brown and Freed wonderfully, making each song sound fresh and new, as if they had been penned specifically for the film.
Of course, words on a page are nothing without a cast to bring them to life, and Singin' in the Rain has one of the greatest ensemble casts of any movie musical. Even cast members in non-singing roles give stellar performances. As studio chief R.F. Simpson, Millard Mitchell is gruff and serious in one breath, yet is timid and cowardly when any conflict arrives with ditzy diva, Lina Lamont, played by Jean Hagen. As Lamont, Hagen is deliciously sinister and delightfully dim-witted. When she says in her high-pitched voice, “What do you think I am? Dumb or something?” you know the only logical answer to her question is, “Yes.” Hagen’s timing and ability to create a character who’s so evil yet so stupid is comedy gold. And as director Roscoe Dexter, Douglas Fowley revels in chewing the scenery, some of which hide microphones in one of his funniest scenes with Hagen (“I can’t make love to a bush!”).
And then there are the films three stars, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, and Gene Kelly. As musician Cosmo Brown, Donald O’Connor delivers laugh after laugh, both in the witty delivery of his one-liners and his guffaw-inducing solo number, “Make ‘Em Laugh.” As the sweet, young ingénue Kathy Selden, a 19-year-old Debbie Reynolds exudes warmth and grace. When considering that Reynolds had no dance training, her performance is downright remarkable.
But the film really belongs to Gene Kelly, the quintuple threat of actor, singer, dancer, choreographer, and co-director. As movie star Don Lockwood, Kelly is suave, charming, sexy, and has a constant twinkle in his eye. When he dances, there’s such glee and exuberance to it that you can’t help but smile, and his athletic style of choreography, complete with summersaults off of walls and tumbles over sofas, changed the face of dance forever. His work in the title song’s routine is a brilliant mix of childlike play and masculine power, a mix of which has never been seen before or since in dance. The result is absolutely infectious and remarkable.
After witnessing the reaction of the audience last Thursday night, it’s clear to me that Singin' in the Rain is a timeless classic worthy of the attention and praise it has received over the past 60 years. It’s no longer a piece of film history but a piece of Americana as well, and I have no doubt that we will be talking about the film with delight and admiration another 60 years from now.
Come on with the rain. I’ve a smile on my face.
Singin' in the Rain will be re-released on Blu-Ray on Tuesday, July 17, 2012.